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Jim France: IMSA’s blockbuster news could herald new ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jim France is hoping that Friday’s announcement of re-creating a sports car bridge from Daytona to Le Mans will resemble a recent Hollywood blockbuster

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, the chairman of IMSA and CEO of NASCAR. “I can’t control what the manufacturers do and how they approach it, but the opportunity will certainly be there.”

In a joint news conference with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (the ACO is the global sanctioning body for sports cars), IMSA announced that its new DPI car for 2022 will be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The rebranded class will be known as Le Mans Daytona h (LMD h) and allow crossover between the top categories in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship (whose top division will be Hypercar). Currently, the LMP2 and GTLM classes of IMSA can run at Le Mans, but its premier division isn’t eligible for the world’s biggest sports car event.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” (an Academy Award-nominated film released last fall that stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale) chronicles a bygone era in which it was possible for a manufacturer such as Ford to win the top class of both prestigious races.

During a rare interview with reporters after the news conference, France said he is optimistic that the new regulations will goose manufacturer involvement.

“The proof will be when we have a car that wins Daytona and wins Le Mans in the same year, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” France said.

He also is “very much so” looking forward to the return of NASCAR to Daytona International Speedway next month. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus is on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.